Chapter 1

"Get out!" Cherry shouted at the head cook and pointed at the door. "How dare you mess with my work? You destroyed it you talentless oaf!"

The kitchen fell silent. Even the men on the spit stopped turning the meat to stare at her. The head cook was infamous for his wicked temper but working with Cherry was seen as a reward as well as a coup because she was hard to fluster. Cherry was the sweet cook, not because of her temper but for her artistry with desserts. She was paid an obscene amount, three times that of the head cook, and could over rule the head cook just to keep her happy in the kitchens.

There was just one quirk everyone in the kitchen knew she had; never, ever touch her works in progress.

"How dare you talk to me in such a manner?" The cook shouted back. "You're a one trick pony!"

Cherry braced her hands on her hips. "You make pedestrian soups and bland bread and you dare call me a one trick pony?"

The steward raced into the room. "What is this?" The slightly chubby, short man looked like he was racing to his own execution.

"He destroyed my creations." Cherry accused and shook a heavy wooden spoon at the cook.

"Surely it isn't that bad." The steward tried to soothe her.

"I did no such thing! You were off swanning about and it must be dealt with!"

"The wedding is tomorrow! I cannot start over now. It is impossible!" Cherry stormed to the small room off the kitchen, leaving the steward to trail after her. The air in this room was sweet and soothing with sugar and spices. She had been creating a marzipan and sugar center piece of the wedding couple as well as tarts, and nearly half a dozen other desserts. The desserts were being stored in a small, lockable ice closet.

"What did he do?" The steward asked.

She pointed to her cold room and the shattered marzipan figures on the floor surrounded by a sticky mess of tarts. "I had left it on my table while I went to get fresh wild berries and he says he needed the table and ordered it moved."

The steward picked up the elegantly formed face of the bride. "Oh, this is a disaster!" Looking up he saw the shelf which had held tarts and pies had been torn from the wall. "What would it take for you to recover?" He asked shakily. He knew if she, the prize servant, quit he'd be kicked to the curb.

"It is not possible. We don't have the ingredients, we don't have the time, and it cannot be done when the kitchen is needed for the meats." Cherry braced her fists on her hips. "I wish my pay, now. I am not staying!"

"Where are you going?" He got to his feet and caught her hands. "Please, don't leave!"

"That food is worth fifty times your wages." She pointed out.

He looked at the mess then at her.

"Gilded pie edges, exotic ingredients…" Cherry pointed out. "All of it lost through that man's desire to put me in my place."

"I must leave you." He hurried to the door. He had to collect his belongings and wages before giving immediate notice, they'd want to recover the cost of the wasted dessert somewhere and, as steward, they'd blame him.

Cherry stared at the terrible mess. This would have been a true masterpiece, even if they'd devour it. It would have been the talk of the capital.

Leaving, she closed the door again and locked it with her key, the head cook had the only other one.

She, like the steward, knew where the blame would fall and she was not going to stick around to be the target. She sent a letter filled with indignation and wailing over the loss and informing the Lady of the household she could not stay where that man would rule the roost. She ordered it delivered then collected her belongings, and rode out the gate, just as the steward did the same. He kindly gave her a little pouch with her wages since the last quarter.

"Fair travels, Mistress Cherry." He said with a weak smile.

"And to you." She saluted him.

She didn't stay in the city, Rethwellan law favoured the noble and she could be taken up on charges because of that damned disaster. Instead she headed out the northern gate.

"You know, Clove, I never thought desserts would be so dramatic." She said to the horse.

The mare snorted.

"So, we need to get to an inn before dark." Cherry said as she pulled a letter out of the pocket in her riding skirt. "Do you think we should try for Valdemar then?"

The mare didn't answer. Unfolding the paper she laboriously read the letter again. It was a job offer from the Lord Seneschal for the Queen of Valdemar. Cherry was very good at creating exotic treats and drinks and had been offered positions in multiple courts but she had turned them down because she liked to be her own boss. However, now her choices were limited and she'd heard good things about the kitchen at the palace of Queen Selenay.

At least she had a relative in Valdemar she might look up, although she was probably unaware of Cherry's existence.

Her half siblings had plenty of money and rank but the only thing she got from her father was a position in the kitchen until his wife noticed her resemblance to her sister in law. Cherry had no idea she was the lord's natural daughter until she listened to the Lady's wailing over her existence. He never acknowledge her, he just gave her a small purse of money and told to take herself off. Still in shock she hadn't protested when she was tossed on the horse for the first time and sent trotting out the gate.

That was twelve years ago when she was just fifteen.

"Are you up for a bit of a ride?" Cherry asked the aging mare.

She picked up her pace.

"Good girl, love. We'll keep it gentle." Cherry patted the bay's neck.